- How and Why We Document Our Homeschool Year
If there is anything my kids love to collect it is paper. When I have them clean out their school drawers, they make piles of art papers, church papers, story papers, and scribble papers. The piles of paper make me so grumpy, I don't even ask my kids permission before throwing things away. I just start decluttering!
At one point, I found I had grown to despise the paper clutter so much that I stopped documenting anything at all from our homeschool! I knew there had to be a happy medium between distracting piles of paper clutter and throwing everything away. So I decided to document our year with a minimalist approach that didn't allow the paper mess get out of control.
I am grateful to live in Michigan, a state with no homeschool regulations, so all the ways I document our homeschool year are strictly for sentimental reasons or personal accountability. I don't have to do it. But I choose to because I want to have special mementos to pass down to my kids.
Plan Memory Making Moments
Even though I am not a crafty mom, I added Artistic Pursuits to our homeschool to accommodate my children's intense interest in art. They loved our weekly art explorations, and I even worked on my own art alongside them! They ended up with some beautiful pieces to document the school year.
Although it is not my personal preference to do art, I made a point to inject memory-making moments into our routine. Maybe for you it's something else:
- playing board games
- having poetry teatime
- learning new songs together
- going on nature hikes
Whatever activity you choose, the memories you build together establish a special family closeness. I try to focus on one memory-making activity each week because I know those are the things my kids will cherish as they mature into teens and young adults. Besides knowing history and science, math and composition, I want my kids to remember happy family times from their childhood. So I am deliberate about planning and documenting special moments from our days.
File Completed Work in a Binder
As my kids complete handwriting pages, copywork, writing projects, or math worksheets, they stack the papers in a drawer. At the end of the week, I add the pages to their three-ring binders. When the school year is complete, they love seeing all the completed worksheets! I marvel over their improvement and file the work away in boxes, keeping the empty binders to fill again the next year.
Keep Track of Progress and Be Encouraged
When we teach our children every day, their small, incremental progress sometimes goes unnoticed. We may get bogged down in today's deficiencies and forget how far children have actually come. For example, maybe my son's handwriting seems terrible at the moment, but when I compare it to work from four months ago, I can see genuine growth. Then both my son and I are encouraged to keep pressing forward.
A focus on perfection results in unreasonable expectations. Instead of seeing the progress that our kids have made, we have a sense of disappointment that our children can sense. The solution is to document work all along and look at it periodically.
Likewise, we can also underestimate our kids abilities when they are advancing quickly. This year Tenderhearted Boy read through his Sonlight grade 2 readers at an incredible speed, so I have already started him on the grade 3 readers and have been making myself notes to keep challenging him next year.
A huge advantage to homeschooling is that kids can work at their own pace! It is up to us to keep track of their progress and focus on bringing out each child’s personal best.
Put Art and Completed Projects in Individual Boxes
Each of my children has a single box to fill with their favorite homeschool projects. When it is full, I have them evaluate the work to decide what to keep and what to toss. This method prevents the paper clutter from getting out of control. As they get older, they become choosier about their favorite works of art since they have to make space for new items. By the time they are finished with school at home, they will have a box of their best artistic treasures!
Create a Memory Book for Each School Year
The last two years I have asked my children fun questions to record their personal highlights of the year. This year I can rely on Sonlight's Memory Book to provide both the questions and the fun themed papers on which to record them. Some of my kids' favorite pages have been
- favorite historical figure
- a list of the books they read
- extra activities they participated in
- vacations and field trips
It is a PDF format so you can print copies for each of your kids!
Take Pictures of Daily Homeschool Life
Back when I was homeschooled, there was not the same easy way we have today to document our homeschool days with pictures—mobile phones, digital pictures, and social media! Part of documenting my homeschool year is taking pictures of our favorite, or even the not so favorite, parts of daily homeschool life:
- nature hikes
- read aloud moments
- messy art tables
- poetry tea times
I even get in the picture, too, from time to time! I wish my mom had taken selfies when I was being homeschooled, and I know my kids will want photos of me, too.
Documenting your school year doesn't have to be elaborate. It can be as simple as taking a few extra photos and coming up with a no-fuss storage system for select papers and works of art. Whether your goals are for state documentation or merely sentimental reasons, you still get the added benefit of seeing tangible growth from month to month and year to year. That kind of encouragement can keep you homeschooling through hard times, and it's a huge perk to documenting your homeschool.
- How to Handle Feeling Overwhelmed on Box Day
Box Day is amazing! You get an enormous box of educational goodies that you will love and enjoy for the next year. Yet Box Day can be overwhelming, too.
If you're having feelings of stress on Box Day, please know that it's not uncommon. But we have suggestions for how to cope so that the overwhelming emotions pass as quickly as possible, and you can celebrate with a bar of dark chocolate or a bubble bath.
When talking to moms who feel overwhelmed on Box Day, there seem to be three different causes of the drowning feeling:
- the sheer quantity of physical stuff
- the general stress of anything new
- the magnitude of the task of homeschooling
So let's look at each and strategies for easing the anxiety in each particular case.
1. If You Are Overwhelmed on Box Day by the Quantity of the Physical Stuff
Just like Christmas and baby showers and any other time you suddenly find yourself with the pleasure and stress of a bunch of new possessions, Box Day involves at least one large box that requires some materials handling.
Ideally, you’ll have a spare shelf for the books since most Sonlight programs will fit on a single good-sized shelf. But if not, consider any flat surface as a possibility, such as on top of a dresser or a table. Many families keep most of the books on a reasonably handy shelf, but keep the books used for the week in a basket by the couch. On Box Day, you probably don’t need to figure that out. Find a place to stack these beautiful books, and be at peace.
The Instructor’s Guide, in its binder, is enormous. Most Sonlighters separate out some portion of the pages into a working binder. If you have a one-inch binder around the house, you can fit several weeks’ worth of notes in it, and keep that with your books. (Bonus: this method gives you a feeling of forward progress, as you swap out completed weeks!)
Do you have a spot in the kitchen for your Science supply kit? Maybe a slightly-empty cupboard or shelf? Many experiments are easiest done in the kitchen, so consider finding a storage spot in an out-of-the-way but still readily accessible spot.
If you don’t have a spot to hang your Markable Map (and many of us don’t), you might find it easiest to keep it folded up with the books on a shelf or in the basket.
Fortunately there are not many days of the year when you have to take in, process, and store this many new items. So if you’re overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the physical stuff . . . that’s okay. You'll be past this organization phase quickly.
2. If You Are Overwhelmed on Box Day by the Stress That Comes with Something New
The thing about homeschooling is that it’s always changing. As is life in general. So if you’ve never homeschooled before, there’s some overwhelm because it’s all new!
And if you have homeschooled before, that’s maybe a little comforting, but you’ve never homeschooled this child or these children, using these materials, at this stage in your life.
You have to navigate shifting relationships, shifting roles around the house, and shifting responsibilities. Oh, and manage the rest of life that you were already living, too.
It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed because of that.
But just like everything else you’ve had to begin—high school, a job, marriage, parenting—you might feel a little overwhelmed and discombobulated at first. But you keep moving forward, and eventually you might even think was high school really that difficult?
In this case, homeschooling is not the overwhelm. Newness is the overwhelm. And nothing is new forever.
3. If You Are Overwhelmed on Box Day by the Magnitude of the Task
If you have a teaching degree, you know that all your training in classroom management won’t translate very well to the different challenges of homeschooling. And if you don’t have a teaching degree, you might feel even more overwhelmed, not even sure where to start—especially when you’re facing a pile of books and goodies.
This is where your Sonlight Instructor’s Guide comes in.
It’s not just fancy marketing to say that the Guides allow your homeschool day to be just open-and-go. It’s literally true. All the books you just organized are pre-scheduled for you. You won’t need to guess about assignments, or when to read one book instead of the other.
So although the stack looks overwhelming, it’s broken into 144 or 180 parts (either 4-Day or 5-Day). That’s a tremendous amount of days, and you’ll have a manageable amount to deal with each day.
You’ve got this. You can read to your children. Your children can listen and either learn to read or read for themselves. You’re going to have a most excellent year. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll laugh and maybe cry.
And when you look back on Box Day, you’ll see that it was the start of an adventure, and you wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
- 5 Reasons Children Need to Read Books with Flawed Characters
There is much focus in the homeschool culture on wholesome reading material, particularly titles which feature boys and girls of exemplary virtue. In these books, the main characters consistently—if not inexplicably—model correct choices and praiseworthy attitudes.
Such flawless characters, the argument goes, show our children how to live by presenting ideal behavior in an ideal world. In these wholesome stories, conflicts are often presented with clear and obvious distinctions between good and evil, and with plain lines between heroes and villains.
As charming as it might sound, idyllic literature doesn’t always send a positive message.
I’m a second-generation homeschooler who married a second-generation homeschooler, and between us, we have a whole lot of adult siblings who were educated at home, too. When I talk with my siblings and my homeschooled peers, one topic which comes up over and over again is the impact rewritten (as opposed to real world) stories had on our faith as adults. At first read, these stories of idealistic boys and girls sound harmless enough. After all, the main characters exude all fruits of the spirit and then some, and never seem to struggle with bad attitudes or poor choices. These are the heroes we want our children to model, right?
The problem, though, is that such idealistic tales take place in a vacuum very unlike the real world. The choices—and people!—our children meet in real life are rarely so black and white. Sending the message it’ll always be easy to spot what’s right and who’s right is dangerous and confusing. While there is a place for solidly moral tales, greater learning and growth comes from sharing authentic stories of flawed, human characters. It’s far more impactful to discuss with your kids how a complex character overcame in a broken world, than how a faultless character succeeded in a perfect world.
1. Flawed Characters Model the Power of Redemption
This is why I love Sonlight’s real-world approach to choosing books. Read the first qualifier on Sarita's seven-part test for a Sonlight book:
“Heroes should not be flawless. Anti-heroes ought not to be thoroughly detestable. They need to be nuanced and complex–the way real people are.”
As Christians, this is so important. God has made it a point to show us, over and over again throughout the Bible, His tremendous power to transform the flawed and the broken through the power of His grace. Jesus’ very lineage is traced through men and women undoubtedly flawed, yet fully redeemed. We aren’t meant to focus on a goal of perfect behaviour outside of Jesus; we’re meant to focus on Jesus.
In fact, many of my homeschooled peers and I would go so far as to argue that feeding our children a steady diet of unrealistically perfect literary characters, to the exclusion of other books, actually has the potential to harm our children’s faith. You see, when children are presented with a constant stream of flawless literary characters who do no wrong and face no struggles—or who overcome overly-simplistic struggles in a formulaic manner—several things are bound to occur.
2. Flawed Characters Define Goodness in the Light of Grace, but Flawless Characters Define Goodness as the Sum of Actions
First, when we focus on idealized characters, we risk sending the message that a child’s goodness is defined as the sum of their virtues and actions. While we all want our children to make right choices, we don’t want to accidentally perpetuate the false idea that worth—or salvation!—is measured by the the quantity of virtuous choices a person has made.
Worth is inherent as a being created by God; salvation is not merit-based. Flawed heroes live out the gospel, right on the pages of the books we hold in our hands. And it’s flawed heroes who show us it is in our imperfections Christ’s power can shine through. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
3. Flawed Characters Steer Us Away from the Trap of Perfectionism, but Flawless Characters Hold up Perfection as the Standard
Second, when we idolize faultless characters, we risk teaching our children to equate perfection with goodness. After all, in one-dimensional books, it is only the villains who struggle, and only the bad guys who make errors in judgement. The main characters remain unflappable and flawless, constantly making correct choices and modeling ideal behavior. These perpetual examples of unachievable perfection can lead to great discouragement in a child.
“I consistently tell [my children],” said Molly P., a fellow Sonlighter, “that there will never be a time when they do everything right. If they did everything right, they would be Jesus. ...To expect perfection of ourselves is just plain wrong.”
4. Flawed Characters Point to Jesus, but Flawless Characters Point to Our Own Efforts
Third, when we push unrealistic characters, we risk sending a confusing message about Jesus. Hannah M. was homeschooled and raised on a wide variety of books, and she doesn’t mince words about this. “Preachy books devalue Jesus by presenting the possibility we can be perfect on our own.” she says. “‘Try harder to do better,’ these books say. If you want your children to learn to condemn themselves for every tiny flaw they have—and eventually give up on Jesus, because they can never measure up to him— read books with perfect characters. But God is not about perfectionism. He is about grace, and about lending His power to our weakness. God loves us as we are; he doesn’t wait to love us until we are perfect.”
5. Flawed Characters are Actually Normal
We’re all imperfect, every last one of us! Books with flawed main characters accurately reflect not only the human experience, but also the reality of what it means to be redeemed, forgiven, and made whole.
Sonlighter Petrina K. points out that in The Light at Tern Rock from History / Bible / Literature A, little Ronnie “struggles with unforgiveness and anger,” yet we also are privileged to watch the miraculous work of redemption and grace unfold. We’d do our children a great disservice if we skipped this book because we didn’t want to read about Ronnie’s bad attitude when he faced betrayal.
“If you are concerned they will mimic the bad behavior”, says Hannah M., “My advice to parents is to read books to your kids with flawed—normal!—characters anyway, and then discuss what you read.”
If you ask me, that sounds an awful lot like the whole foundation of a Sonlight education: real parents, reading real books to real children, and living out redemption in the everyday.
- How to Boost Your Own Health Through Homeschooling
I recently saw a list of 100 reasons why homeschooling is good for families. Reasons 80-85 were all about health. And I agree!
Homeschooling can definitely improve children's health. They often get more sleep, more active play, healthier food, and are exposed to far fewer germs. I also think homeschooling can be great for your health as a parent. Much of that comes from the flexibility homeschooling gives you to craft the lifestyle you want. Here are some ideas to make the most of that flexibility and boost your own health.
I think many moms, if home alone, will just scrounge and find whatever is easy to eat for a meal. Ever eaten a bowl of chips and called it good? But when you're with your kids all day, you're more likely to be more intentional about food for their sake. If you're preparing them a healthy lunch each day (or providing ingredients for them to make it on their own), chances are you'll eat a real lunch, too. And with your children watching, you're more likely to choose an apple with peanut butter for your afternoon snack instead of that candy bar.
We know that homeschooled children get significantly more sleep on average than their public school peers. This helps them face the day's academic and emotional challenges.
But it's not just children who need sleep. The fact that they're getting good sleep helps you get good sleep, too! You don't have to get up early to pack lunches and get groggy kids to the school bus. You don't have to stay up late with them working through frustrating homework assignments. Instead, you can find the amount of sleep that is ideal for you and then try to guard that. You'll be better able to serve your family throughout the day if you give your body the rest it needs.
Your Own Healthy Schedule
It's true that homeschooling adds a layer of stress to your life. But you also get to skip many other stressors you'd face if you put them in school. So since you have the freedom, find a schedule that works for you.
- Do you need to add a morning walk or afternoon run with your kids?
- Or institute a post-lunch nap/quiet hour?
- Would it help if you started your days later or earlier?
- What if you switched around the order in which you tackled each academic subject?
As with everything in homeschooling, figure out a schedule that works for you and go with it. Less stress usually equals more health.
Lower Germ Exposure
Chances are your children will get sick less often at home than if they were in school. And that probably means you'll get sick less often as well. Fortify that benefit by some simple steps when you do go into a germ-laden area. When you get home from the library or playground, for example, simply have everyone wash his or her hands. Eating healthy and staying hydrated can also boost your immunity.
More Time Outside
Don't have time for regular workouts right now? Try to find ways to stay active alongside your kids during the day. Lots of moms will enjoy an riding bikes with their children, jumping on the trampoline, or playing a game of kickball. If the weather is lousy, put on some music and have a dance party instead. Check out Homeschool Family Fitness for more ideas. And don't forget to count it all as Physical Education!
You give so much time and energy to your children as you help them be healthy in every sense of the word. As you serve them, I'd encourage you to pay attention to your own health as well. Do any of the ideas above resonate with you? Is there one small change you could make to further enjoy the health benefits of homeschooling?
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- 5 Ways Homeschool Families Can Support Missionaries
Of all the reasons I love our Sonlight education—
- learning through real-world books, not rewritten sources,
- developing (rather than simply reciting) a worldview, and
- connecting geography, history, and culture through human stories
—perhaps my favorite reason is how Sonlight also includes wider, global perspectives. After all, how many other homeschool publishers allocate an entire year to non-Western civilizations, as Sonlight does with History / Bible / Literature F’s survey of the Eastern Hemisphere?
And of course, I love the missions-minded focus, too. As a young adult and former missionary kid, I was convinced I’d end up back on the mission field (my heroes were women like Amy Carmichael, Isobel Kuhn, and Gladys Aylward.) Instead, God called me to stay in America, and subsequently to homeschool. So a missions-focused company like Sonlight just makes sense to me.
In fact, did you know that one of the ways homeschool families can support missionaries is simply by placing a Sonlight order?
1. Support Missionary Families by Purchasing from Sonlight
Over fifty percent of Sonlight profits goes to missions and charity. Did you realize that? Fifty percent! When you’re purchasing your History / Bible / Literature sets and choosing your math curriculum, you’re also giving to the work of missionaries around the world. That’s something to consider next time you’re weighing the pros and cons of hunting down used books versus ordering a full package directly from Sonlight.
And Sonlight hasn’t chosen the missions organizations haphazardly. If you’ve spent any time in your big blue binder, you’ll recognize the acronym THUMB:
- Unreached / Unreligious Chinese
Sonlight’s carefully selected reputable charities—like the Far East Broadcasting Company and the Seed Company —to receive fifty percent of the company’s profits. And Sonlight often partners with other ministries for special missions projects, too.
The cost of your school books this year is fueling the gospel in the far ends of the earth, while you’re laboring in the trenches at home. How incredible is that?
2. Support Missionary Families by Developing a Global Perspective
As Christians, we serve and pray to a global God. It only makes sense that this world-encompassing perspective should extend to our homeschool journeys as well. Embrace the joy of learning about countries and cultures other than the one you’re in right now! A Sonlight education helps us see that every part of the world holds a human story.
We’re currently working our way through Window on the World as a part of History / Bible / Literature C. This book is such a wonderfully holistic way to present geography in context of the people who live in the ninety or so most unreached areas of the world map.
Approach cultural geography with a sense of wonder. Don’t simply learn the stories of missionaries, but also dive into the incredible diversity of the people and culture in which they serve. Then pray for them.
3. Support Missionary Families by Writing Personal Letters
As a missionary kid, few things were more thrilling than a handwritten letter from America.
“Letters are awesome!” agrees Marie B., who currently works with abandoned children in Romania and has two children of her own. “Even something as simple as a sheet of stickers for each kid—and always include a family photo of yourself.”
Try to imagine what it must be like to send out countless newsletters and emails chronicling every last detail of your ministry and life, and hear very little in response. Just as you want to be connected to the missionaries you support, missionaries in turn want to be connect to you. “Respond to their newsletters,” suggests Leona O., a physician and mother who served overseas with a global medical mission organization, “[and] share about your own life.”
The buoying encouragement of those letters makes more of a difference than you know. And when you hear back from missionaries, really listen to what they have to say.
4. Support Missionary Families by Allowing for Cultural Differences
Maintain a global perspective. At times, you may encounter missionaries who run their ministries in a way which seems foreign to us, but is completely customary where they live. Remember that the Americanized Western way, while more familiar to most of us, is not the only way.
And understand that missionaries—kids and parents alike—often are caught in an impossible place between two cultures. As Marie, raising America-born kids in Eastern Europe says, “Don’t ask us if we miss America. It’s a no win question.” Instead, do all you can to encourage those who’ve given up everything familiar and comfortable to serve faithfully abroad.
5. Support Missionary Families by Sending Packages (But Ask What’s Needed)
The items missionaries really miss from home are uniquely individual to both the missionary family and the area in which they serve. Ask directly. And if the response surprises you, don’t override their requests, even if they seem odd or insignificant. (My favorite care package memory from my missionary kid childhood? Brand new American underwear!)
Leona, who lived in Nepal, echoes this. “Ask what things they need or want,” she says. “Perhaps peanut butter is actually widely available where they live!” Marie adds, “If you have the money to send a care package, just take the surprise out of it and just ask what they need. Getting a package that cost fifty dollars to ship filled with things we can get at the store here is a tad disappointing.”
And support missionary families monetarily, too! Overseas cost of living can be very expensive, and medical bills, furlough travel, visa costs, and other expenses take a toll.
Integrate Missions into Your Homeschool Day
As homeschool families, our flexible schedules and time at home gives us the ability to real pour time into supporting missionary families overseas. Instead of another essay, have your child write a letter to a missionary kid. Assign encouraging Scripture copywork, embellish it with color and design, then mail it to a missionary family. Allow kids to earn extra chore money that’ll go to supporting a missionary family. Set up a pen pal relationship for a cultural exchange. Add missionaries to your daily prayer list.
And with your kids, research the missions organizations you’re supporting with your Sonlight purchase—
- The Seed Company
- Mission India
- Far East Broadcasting Company
—and find out what a difference you’re making...as you’re Sonlighting!
- Raising College Ready Students with a Literature-Rich Curriculum
A quote from David Coleman, president of the College Board and designer of the SAT and AP tests, caught my attention: “The single most important predictor of student success in college is the ability to read a range of complex texts with understanding.”
Reading is the first of many skills we are blessed to teach our children in our homeschool. It is the key to unlocking all that literature has to offer, but it is so much more. Reading is a tool to access to opportunities in higher education and the key to unlock future goals. Reading makes kids college ready.
Is My Homeschool Student College Ready?
That quote from David Coleman jumped out at me because we had just spent the last few weeks on the edge of our seats, waiting for our college-bound student’s final ACT scores. For us this score was was not only going to determine if our son earned a significant scholarship, but it was also an assessment of the accumulated years around tables and on couches, reading and learning as a family. While no test could ever capture the vast spectrum of materials we have covered in all of our years of homeschooling, we hoped our son’s scores would show he was well prepared for the next stage of life as a college student.
If we had one goal for our homeschool, it was that our kids would excel at reading. As a homeschooling parent, there are few times that you can get a clear assessment that your thehard work is paying off. Our son’s scores did arrive, and his scholarship is secured, but the best part for me, was looking at the physical measurement of the very thing we had hoped to instill.
As a Sonlight student his whole life, can you guess what area he scored the highest? Yes! Reading. As we reviewed the result breakdown, we saw that our son showed high proficiency in the ability to understand complex texts. Victory! We achieved our goal.
How Do We Raise Strong Readers to Be College Ready?
Raising readers is more difficult than it appears. According to the SAT’s own report, critical reading scores are at an all time low, with a 3% decline in one year alone. Yet, the YA section of our local library is growing by the shelfful. Kids are reading more books, but according to the Renaissance Learning Group, the average reading level of the top 25 books chosen by high school students is 5.3 on the Lexile Scale. This is barely over the fifth grade level or in the 700-799 range, whereas an eleventh grade student, reading at grade level, would be at 1050-1300, which is considered to be college ready.
Building a great relationship with books is central. We started early—reading books that were challenging, as well as engaging. Layering variety and familiarity with increasingly difficult texts was the bridge to getting our children to read at a higher grade-level index. This does not mean that all of their reading material needs to be at college level, but introducing higher index books as a regular part of their reading diet is a must if they are going to reach this goal.
For ourselves that meant finding a curriculum that offered a mix of classic reading, biographies, and read-alouds. (Children can comprehend books more complicated books when they are read aloud by a parent.) This is what first led us to Sonlight Curriculum; this literature-based curriculum satisfied our need for high level reading and high engagement.
We used our Instructor's Guide, filled with vocabulary words and discussion questions to develop critical thinking skills in our students. The emphasis on current events had our students searching news and journal articles, which tend to have a higher reading index than most books. The end result of this learning method is strong readers, ready for whatever career avenue they might choose.
Does Literature-Based Learning Create Strong Readers?
Could it be the result of using Sonlight or just a fluke? Our three recent graduates have diverse skill sets.
- One is a prolific writer, with underdeveloped math skills.
- Another a math whiz with embarrassing English marks.
- The third scored highest in reading and science.
But all three were college ready, demonstrating a high proficiency in the understanding of complex texts. All three of them received warm college acceptance letters with academic scholarships to boot. I don’t think it is a fluke; it is a result you can count on. Strong readers excel in academics, even when they have academic trouble spots.
Trust Your Homeschool Library
As I read through the list of the top 25 books students are reading at grade twelve, I noted one curious detail. Every book rated over the average reading level (7.2) was a book we have on our shelf as a part of our Sonlight library. Authors like Orwell with 1984, Shelly’s Frankenstein, Fitzgerald with The Great Gatsby and Huxley’s Brave New World, all of these have been a part of our homeschool reading.
If you are looking for a way to help your children excel at reading while they learn to delight in great books, you can’t go wrong with a literature-based curriculum. By using Sonlight as our guide, we have raised not only college ready kids, but young adults who are prepared for so much more.
- How to Throw an End of the Year Homeschool Showcase
When we began homeschooling, one of my concerns was that there would not be many opportunities for my children to show what they’ve learned. In public school, it seems that there are plenty of chances to proudly display your work for the world to see. While that’s certainly not a requirement for a well-rounded education, there is a sense of accomplishment when others see the hard work that went into a school year.
So I set out to think of ways that my children could show their work from the year, and finally, I came up with what turned out to be one of my grandest ideas: an End of the Year Homeschool Showcase.
There were just three requirements:
- It had to be simple or it would only serve to add stress to my already full plate.
- It also had to be celebratory. After all, a whole year of hard work is something to celebrate, right?
- Finally, it had to include the important people in our lives.
So without further ado, here is my recipe for an End of the Year Homeschool Showcase.
1. Display Great Work at Your End of the Year Homeschool Showcase
First, go through your child’s papers from the year or, if they are old enough, have them choose the best samples of work. Hang them on the wall. You can do as much or as little as you wish. I like to group work samples together by child, so each of my children has a showcase space. Try to pull out pieces from the beginning of the year as well as the end so everyone can see progress.
2. Display All the Books at Your End of the Year Homeschool Showcase
This is probably my favorite part. Each child pulls neatly arranges all the books he or she read that year in their designated showcase space.
Then, I pull all the Read-Alouds, Science titles, and History books that we studied together and display those as well. It is pretty amazing to see just how much reading took place over the course of a year. Our Sonlight bookstacks are impressive!
3. Serve Simple Snacks for the End of the Year Homeschool Showcase
Simple is the key here for me. You might be a baker extraordinaire. If you are, feel free to make a spread. Good food is always appropriate! However, if you’re like me, head to the store to pick up some cheese squares, pretzel sticks, and a tray of cookies. If I’m really feeling fancy, I’ll take the cookies out of the plastic container and arrange them on a platter!
4. Prep Your Kids Before the End of the Year Homeschool Showcase
Talk to your children beforehand about your expectations for them.
- Would you like them to greet the guests?
- Will they be speaking with their guests about their work?
- Would you like for them to recite memory work or make some sort of presentation?
Take a few minutes every day for a week or so to practice good conversation.
5. Invite Your Guests to Your End of the Year Homeschool Showcase
When we first began, we started out small by only inviting our grandparents, but then the kids wanted to invite our neighbor who we had been visiting. Then they wanted to invite their homeschool buddies. As you can imagine, it grew from there. Now, we have quite a crowd every year, and we love it! It’s one of the events that my kids look forward to the most.
It’s so funny. Every year when I’m preparing for our End-of-Year Showcase, I think to myself, “This year might be sparse. I don’t think we’ve done much.” But when I start pulling out their work and hanging it up, I see just how much we accomplished this year. It has quickly become one of my favorite events, too, giving me a boost at the end of the year to see all that my kids and I have done throughout the year. This tangible display of all we've done is great medicine for homeschool burnout, and it’s fun for everyone!
Sometimes, I’ll get everything ready while my kids are gone for the day or the evening before so that it will be a surprise when they see it. Their faces light up when they see their work so carefully displayed for everyone to see. It’s a moment that we all cherish and anticipate. Great work and progress is worth celebrating, and this has proven to be a great way for my family to celebrate! How do you celebrate the end of the year?
- 8 Reasons I Love My Sonlight Instructor’s Guide
In a Sonlight education, books enjoy the widest swath of the spotlight. It’s a literature-based education, so this makes sense. But what about that big blue binder? The Instructor’s Guide is a tidy compendium of
- memory work,
- vocabulary, and
- discussion questions.
In short, it’s a homeschool mom’s command central.
1. The Instructor’s Guide Allows Me to Teach When Tired
Let’s be real. The ability to teach when tired is a real perk! Some days it takes a whole lot of brain power to remember what chapter is next and which lesson we last completed. I love how the Instructor’s Guide lets me flip open to this week’s tab and immediately see what’s on tap for the day. I don’t have to look through a stack of school books to figure out where I am. And on days when I don’t feel like doing school, the Instructor’s Guide keeps me going.
2. The Instructor’s Guide Shows Me How Much I’ve Accomplished
The Instructor’s Guide allows me to see progress. On the left of the three-ring binder, I can see how many pages we’ve already completed, and on the right, I know exactly how far I have left to go. In a role which sometimes feels like I’m a hamster in a wheel leaving no visible progress in my wake, this is beautiful. It’s easy to forget just how much ground we’ve actually covered. But glancing down at the tabbed Instructor’s Guide—and looking at that towering stack of Sonlight books—I can see our progress. How empowering!
3. The Instructor’s Guide Provides a Solid and Steady Framework and Rhythm
In the days before electricity, the human experience shared a collective rhythm. Now, work stretches from pre-dawn to post-dusk, and we no longer operate in sync with the natural rhymns of sunlight. Yet deep down, we still crave a certain semblance of structure. And we crave ways to transform daily tasks into truly meaningful experiences, too, rather than simply completing mundane tasks by rote. I view my Instructor’s Guide this way. The steady daily rhythm of
- a Scripture song,
- memory work,
- readers, and
anchors our days with tangible and purposeful milestones, and provides a solid framework, amidst long and sometimes hectic hours.
And there’s still more to love about my Instructor’s Guide, even beyond the structure designed to keep me on track. The Instructor’s Guide enables me to integrate
- cultural literacy, and
- navigate controversial topics, too.
4. The Instructor’s Guide Offers Me Easy Access to Vocabulary Words and Definitions
I love dictionaries more than the average person—I have a small collection—but I also love simplicity. When we’re reading a Sonlight book and encounter an unusual word, being able to flip a few pages in the Instructor’s Guide and immediately have the definition at my fingertips is so, so wonderful.
5. The Instructor’s Guide Shows Me the World through Mapping
Would I map as consistently if Sonlight didn’t make geography so simple? In all honesty, probably not. But the Sonlight team has already gone through all the books and made note of each important geographical location mentioned, prompting me with a globe icon (and coordinates) to mark the location on the Markable Map or the reader activity sheets. I really haven’t found an easier way to integrate geography, history, and literature.
6. The Instructor’s Guide Provides Context for Dates in History
If I were to tackle it on my own, creating and maintaining a timeline would be substantial extra project to take on. But with all the notable figures and events already marked in my Instructor’s Guide, tracking people and eras in the Timeline Book is not a burden. Even when we forget to work on it daily and play catch up (let’s call it review), Sonlight makes it easy, with a wide selection of timeline figures already provided in History / Literature / Bible bundles A-H.
7. The Instructor’s Guide Notes Paint a Rich Backdrop for each Book
We enjoy the wide variety of books included in a Sonlight education, but the notes in the Instructor’s Guide provide context to give the stories an even bigger impact. Through the notes, we learn the Pagano family’s attitude toward exploring the cave in Red Sails to Capri accurately reflects historical beliefs during that time. We also realize the feud between the Boyer and Slater families in Strawberry Girl actually reveals a larger cultural truth about early immigration in the southern United States. And when Brother Like mentions matins or terce in Door in the Wall, we can refer to the chart in the Instructor’s Guide to realize he means midnight and nine in the morning. Without referring to the guide, we’d still enjoy the cadence of the stories, but we wouldn’t have the information to fully appreciate the cultural and historical significance of each.
8. The Instructor’s Guide Helps Me to Tackle Controversial Issues
Since a Sonlight education is built around real books, kids and parents tackle real issues together. And sometimes, individual families might want to address these topics in individual ways. At various points throughout a school year, my Instructor’s Guide alerts me to upcoming content—like the birds and the bees, or a creation vs. evolution mention— and prepares me for the discussion which will follow. I love how Sonlight encourages me to have deep, authentic, and meaningful conversations with my daughter.
As I help my daughter navigate this big world, I’m so thankful for resources like my Instructor’s Guide and our Sonlight books. Combined with prayer, these are such invaluable tools in guiding her through learning discernement and critical thinking necessary to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15)—which, after all, is the ultimate goal.
- Five Myths About "Good Homeschool Moms"
As homeschool moms*, we usually know somewhere in our heads that we are our children's best teacher. But getting our hearts to believe that can be another story. When we're honest, many of us face a nagging fear that we just don't measure up. We fall prey to myths about "good homeschool moms."
It can be easy (and quite discouraging) to look around and assume other moms have it all together ... that we're the only ones who ever struggle.
As someone who has been there, done that, and made it to a new stage of parenting (where I get to enjoy my grandkids and interact with my self-sufficient adult children), let me encourage you here. Let's debunk a few discouraging myths that just aren't true.
Myth #1: All "good homeschool moms" have children who perform above average.
If your child is ready for college-level work at age 14, that's great. But far more of us have children who are "average" or struggling. And that's okay, too. Really. Some children learn to read at age 3. Some learn to read at age 8 or later. Neither scenario makes that child more or less loved and valuable in your eyes or God's.
Just as students in a school system range widely in their abilities, so too in our homes. Even with that variation, homeschoolers' scores on standardized tests still average significantly higher than non-homeschoolers. Plus, homeschoolers consistently receive personalized instruction from a teacher who cares greatly about their well-being and success. So wherever your students are academically, rest assured, you are serving your children exceedingly well.
If your children are "ahead" in some subjects and "behind" in others, or on target in everything, or behind in everything, you're in good company. Many Sonlight moms teach children who need extra guidance or a slower pace academically. And many Sonlight moms teach children with special needs or learning challenges.
One of my favorite benefits of homeschooling: We can meet our children wherever they are. We can focus on their unique needs.
Myth #2: "Good homeschool moms" never struggle.
While some moms make it look easy to gracefully manage their home and homeschool, we all struggle at times. As mother, teacher and manager of our household, each role includes a broad range of tasks. So give yourself some credit: you love your children and are striving (albeit imperfectly) to follow God during this unique season. That is a praiseworthy thing indeed.
Myth #3: "Good homeschool moms" always have complete mastery of the material their kids are learning.
Ever find yourself learning something new as you homeschool? Me too! I think that's great. In fact, this is another joy of homeschooling: we get to learn alongside our children and continue in a lifetime of growth and learning.
And remember that once kids get into high school, many homeschool moms become more of a learning coach instead of the primary instructor. If you'd rather not teach Chemistry and Algebra, you can still coach your children as they use quality self-teaching programs. They get to learn upper-level skills and valuable self-motivation at the same time.
Myth #4: "Good homeschool moms" love every minute of their homeschool.
I believe homeschooling is a worthy and delightful calling. But who loves every minute of anything? As with all endeavors, homeschooling comes with good days and bad days. Good seasons and more difficult seasons. Even if you strive for a positive attitude and continually thank the Lord for his blessings, there will probably be days when you dream of just sipping lemonade at a quiet, solitary beach.
Let me encourage you with what I wrote awhile ago, that life will not always be as it is now. Though Satan tries to trick us into despair, he does not know the future, so we choose to trust God instead. I pray that gives you some hope when you face struggles.
That said, I don't believe it's helpful to indulge in daydreams of a time when the kids and life are perfect. I appreciate the honesty and wisdom of a phrase used by a Sonlight mom on her signature: "It is counterproductive for me to dream of days that belong in a season other than the one I'm in."
Myth #5: "Good homeschool moms" should pour every last ounce of energy into their children.
Do you feel guilty for seeking out 30 minutes of solitude? Perhaps that solitude is the best thing you can do for your children. We all recharge in different ways, so find out what works for you and make it a priority.
Whether that is making time to exercise (don't underestimate the value of endorphins!), spending quiet time in prayer and Bible study, or making sure that you and your husband get to sit down and have real conversation together, I'd encourage you to be a good steward of yourself.
May God bless you and your family abundantly right now. May He remind you that He is always with you and His love for you never changes … no matter how good of a homeschool mom you feel like today.
*I should clarify that the Sonlight community includes more than just great homeschool moms. We have great homeschool dads as well! If you're a dad, thank you for the work you do, and please pardon me as I speak directly to moms here. I do hope that you, too, can relate to much of what I share above.
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- 8 Ways to Assess (and Document) Your Child's Learning
Assessing your child doesn’t have to be complicated. My favorite motto for just about everything homeschool related is “Keep It Simple!” So keep that in mind as you read through this list, and remember that there are several different ways to assess. Any one way is not better than another. You must choose what best fits your schedule, your style, your child, and your curriculum. Let’s get started.
1. Assess and Document Learning with a Checklist
Oh yes! It can be this easy! Particularly in the preschool and kindergarten years, a simple checklist is a perfect way to check off goals as your child meets them. If you really want to be official, add the date that your child mastered the goal.
I’ve even used the Sonlight Instructor’s Guide as my checklist in the early years. I just checked off each box that we completed and wrote in pencil on the back of the Instructor’s guide any notes about my child’s progress. When I use the same IG with the next child, I either use a different color pen or put their initials in front of my note.
2. Assess and Document Learning with a Rubric
Especially for writing, rubrics can be a life saver. A rubric places an assessment into categories. For example, if I’m grading a writing piece, there might be three areas where we’ve really focused our attention and I’m wanting to see some progress. For example, let's say we were working on these three categories: content, mechanics, and language usage. In each category, I would use my performance based scale (Exemplary, Proficient, Basic, and Below Basic) to assign a grade to each category. Then, I have a clear picture of what we nailed and what we still need to work on.
Rubrics can be used in any subject, however. The new and improved Sonlight Instructor’s Guides feature several rubrics for assessment purposes. It even has space for you to record the grade right there in the guide if you choose. I love to keep things simple, so I will often write a quick rubric on the back of my child’s paper. It doesn’t take long at all, and it’s an easy, effective way to assess and document your child’s learning.
It’s always a good idea to give your child the rubric ahead of time so that they know what is expected of them.
3. Assess and Document Learning with Booklists and Reading Journals
For reading, it can be difficult to keep documentation of all the great pieces of children’s literature that you and your children have gotten lost in. Let’s just be honest for a bit. There’s no way to extensively document all the great discussion, growth, and character development that comes from reading great books, but may want to try, right?
A booklist and reading journal are a great way to do just that. It doesn’t have to be anything special; my kids like to take a cheap spiral notebook and make it their own by adding stickers and doodles. Each time you read a book together or your child reads a book on their own, have them write the title of the book and the author, and then copy anything from the book that moves them or just makes them think.
As they get older, they can begin recording their thoughts and feelings about these excerpts. This shows higher level thinking while reading and is an excellent way to document learning through living books. In my opinion, there is no better way to learn.
4. Assess and Document Learning with Narration
All my Charlotte Mason mamas, rejoice! Yes, narration is a legitimate method of assessing your child’s comprehension! And narration is a hallmark of the Sonlight approach.
During or after reading a book, have your child tell you about their book. After they give you a simple summary, ask a few deep thinking questions:
- “What do you think about this character’s choice?”
- “What would you do in this situation? Why do you think you would have chosen a different path from this character?”
- "What do you predict will happen next?"
Documenting narrations can be tricky, but a simple handwritten record of the discussion along with your child’s reading journals should suffice.
5. Assess and Document Learning with Standardized Testing
Oh the conflict that arises deep within me when I say the words, standardized testing. I can only imagine that it arises in you, too. After all, we homeschoolers tend to go against the grain. Why would we want our children compared to a certain standard? This is the conflict that churns inside me. However, I have used standardized testing as a simple tool to see where my children are compared to their peers. We don’t discuss their scores (good or bad), and they honestly never think about it again after that envelope is sent off.
I have found that standardized testing is helpful to an extent. Standardized testing can help me pinpoint very specific areas that need work. I personally don’t believe that it’s necessary to do every year if it’s not required in your state, but I think that it can be helpful when kept in a healthy perspective.
6. Assess and Document Learning with Chapter/Unit Tests
These are the most common tests, as these are the type of tests most of us grew up taking. These are the tests at the end of the lesson in the math books. These are helpful to know if your child truly grasped the concepts that you’ve been presenting or if they need a little more work, or occasionally, a lot more work! I find these assessments helpful particularly in math.
7. Assess and Document Learning with Projects
Sometimes, documenting learning is a little tougher. I find that it’s particularly difficult to formally assess my children’s knowledge of history. For subjects like this, we use projects. Sometimes, it’s a compare/contrast essay. Sometimes, it’s a collage of the culture we’ve been studying. We’ve made dioramas of trench warfare and ecosystems and propaganda posters. The sky's the limit when you assess through projects. This is a fun way to assess as you can get creative. If you feel the need to assign a formal grade to a project, a rubric is a great way to do just that.
8. Assess and Document Learning with Drills
Geography, art, music, Bible, and timelines all make for great drill assessments. I like to randomly hand out blank maps to my kids. They fill them in as best as they can without looking at a labeled map. When they’ve exhausted their memory, they count up how many countries, rivers, oceans, and gulfs that they correctly labeled. The great thing about this method is the intrinsic motivation. Even my least competitive child tries to beat their previous score.
Timed or untimed drills can apply to many other subjects besides geography.
- Hand your kids a blank timeline and see how many dates they can fill in.
- Hand them timeline figures and see how fast they can arrange them in chronological order.
- Have them do an old school Bible drill and see how many books of the Bible they can name. Can they list the disciples?
- Hand them art postcards and see if they can group the art by different artists or movements.
If you feel a need to assign a formal grade, set a goal of how many items you want to be completed and let your child know the expectation. From there, use your chosen grading scale.
Assessing your child can be easy. And keeping up with them is even simpler. All of their assessments go into a large three-ring binder that I call their Homeschool Portfolio. If anyone ever wants to see a record of my child’s learning, I can simply hand them the binder, and say with confidence, “Take your time!”
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